The natural wine movement is showing its intentions in the Argentine wine scene. When in November 2017 we invited Jonathan Nossiter, filmmaker, sommelier and passionate promoter of natural wine to the 7th South American Biodynamic Wine Conference, I asked a well-known Argentine journalist about his opinion on the matter. And he replied: "I do not like wines with faults".
Good point. But the issue is that the movement offers enough cloth to cut and I do not think one can be so categorical.
Let's start from the beginning: what is natural wine? The public consensus indicates that it's a wine made from grapes produced in biological form (organic, biodynamic or related) with minimal intervention winemaking, that is, with indigenous yeasts and bacteria, without added enzymes, with minimal filtration and with a maximum of 30 mg/l of total sulfur (while conventional wines usually have more than 100). But the key that differentiates the category seems to be in the latter: the use of sulfur.
Sulfur dioxide is an antiseptic, disinfectant, antioxidant and color scrubber commonly used in the production of wines to control the proliferation of bacteria and prevent oxidation. In the second half of the twentieth century, with the industrialization of chemical viticulture and the production of wines of heterogeneous quality, the use of sulfur became a mandatory protocol to achieve "clean" wines, along with other practices of handling to obtain "commercial" wines.
One of the first voices to oppose this trend was Jules Chauvet, considered the father of natural wine, who dedicated his life to the study of the microbiology of fermentation and promoted the production of a wine without interventions.
Because sulphurous also has side effects: on one hand, due to its antiseptic effect, it compromises the digestion of alcohol with adverse effects on the human organism (headache, dizziness, etc.); on the other - and this is a more personale point of view – sulfite weaken the wine intensity and personality, they work as a planer does with wood.
How to find the right balance between pleasure and neatness? This is the wonderful challenge of natural wine, which renews the freedom of wine. Making a conscious and measured use of sulfur is a highly risky operation, which requires a thorough knowledge of the vineyard and the behavior of the microbiology of a place (yeast, bacteria). And also of extreme dedication, care and humility, since the detours are difficult to predict and often irreversible. This is why the motto of Vella Terra, the main natural wine fair of Barcelona, is "the gram of fear" (“El gramo del miedo”) ...
The result can be extraordinary, but not always. It is not by chance that the movement of natural wine is constituted in Europe by a group of very small producers who are truly passionate about producing a singular wine. The very idea of natural wine is antithetical of the attitutde to mega wineries that require for their subsistence to produce identical wines with different labels.
If we see natural wine in this way, it becomes the last frontier of resistance to the advance of the empire of consumerist standardization. An adventure for few daring to the rescue of the great historical tradition of wine. The movement of natural wine is then a strong position against the current of industrial wine: aimed at a restless and exploratory public, with open senses, which doesn't conform every day with the same. An audience of true rebels, who may be able to value the freedom of each bottle.